Mother Art Monday: Family Matters at the CCC Strozzina

A few Twitter-savvy women pals and I decided to #drinkaboutmuseums last Friday night by following up a visit to the Strozzina Centre for Contemporary Culture with some drinks out. With a name like Family Matters I was hoping the show would include some mother art, and the two pieces in the show explicitly about motherhood were the ones that got us talking the most! It was a marvellous evening, to say the least. I have written often of my love of the Strozzina. I adore how their shows are curated so even novices can really get something out of the experience. And the themes are always tight and thoughtfully considered. Though Family Matters was not one of my favourite of their shows, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mother Tongue, Chrischa Oswald, 2013

Mother Tongue, Chrischa Oswald, 2013

Chrischa Oswald's Mother Tongue provoked strong discomfort verging on disgust among us. The piece consists of two large videos on either side of a room, one showing the artist licking her mother's face and the other vice versa. While I suspect the provocation will cause some viewers to judge the work poorly,  I think art that makes you mad or uncomfortable is far better than art that makes you feel nothing. And the strong reaction it elicited from us sparked some great conversation. The title even became the evening's hashtag.

I appreciate Oswald's piece more after reading what she has to say about it on her website:

As licking often has a sexual connotation in our society it seems odd and maybe almost incestuous what is basically an act of purity. Only as society is influencing and restricting our thinking and behaviour we suppose there´s something wrong. That arises the question how strongly we´re influenced by codes of conduct that determine how we read gestures. It shows how difficult it is to overcome notions of how things are and should be.

One might be confused what to do with this image as then again it´s neither sexual nor a common portrait of mother and daughter. With its ambiguous, blurred or confusing message it refuses to be an economic picture and wants us to reflect on it. Other than e.g. depictions of mother and daughter do in commercial clips or advertisements.

I like how she makes us take a second look at what we consider taboo, since I think a lot of the good work happening to change how we think about motherhood involves feeling uncomfortable.

In Balance With, Courtney Kessel, 2010

In Balance With, Courtney Kessel, 2010

We all liked Courtney Kessel's In Balance With. The mothers among us understood it immediately. For a mother to be able to make her own work with her kid around is the most intricate and delicate dance of getting everything just right -- and it often doesn't hold for very long. Throughout the video Kessel adds more and more household objects to the side of the seesaw her daughter remains seated on before returning to her side. Our favourite part was when she loads on the overflowing pile of laundry, which got us complaining about the lack of dryers in Italy and recalling the daily laundry of brand-spanking-new motherhood. Laundry is such a big part of mothers' days. Even in my egalitarian relationship, the laundry is my job, and it's a big one.

I'm so thrilled to have been introduced to Kessel's work and can't wait to see more. A woman after my own heart, this one. According to her bio on Vimeo (where I discovered we studied abroad in Italy during the same academic year):

Through sculpture, performance, video, and sound, Courtney Kessel’s work strives to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood. Her work transcends the local binary of public/private and extends into the repositioning of the ongoing, non-narrative, excessive dialogic flow that occurs within the domestic space. Kessel examines language and maternity through a feminist lens thereby opening a dialog between what is seen and not seen.

The conversation that followed at the bar was meaty and hilarious. It was one of the best nights I've had out in a long time and I hope it was the first of a regular appuntamento.